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Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Marat: Defense Against the Charges

Jean Paul Marat, fiery leader of the French Revolution, saved his head from the guillotine through his great gift of oratory. Arrested in 1793, he delivered the following speech in his defense before the Convention which tried him the same year. He was acquitted in triumph, only to be assassinated a few weeks later by Charlotte Corday, a woman who favored those opposed to him.

Citizens, Members of the Revolutionary Tribunal: If Roland the patron of the clique of the Girondists had not wasted the public property in misleading the people and perverting the public mind; if the faction of statesmen had not flooded the whole republic with infamous libels of the Commune, the municipality, the sections, the committee of sur­veillance, and, above all, directed against the deputation of Paris; if they had not so long laid their heads together to defame Danton, Robespierre, and Marat; if they had not ceaselessly represented me as a factionist, an anarchist, a drinker of blood, an ambitious man, who looked for supreme power under the title of tribune, triumvir, and director; if the nation, completely undeceived, had recognized the perfidy of these impostures; if their guilty authors had been branded, I would have resisted the arbitrary

acts brought against me under the title of “Decree and Act of Accusation,” by a perfidious faction, which I had so often denounced as almost wholly composed of royalists, traitors, and plotters. I would moreover have waited till the constitution had been reinforced by the return of patriotic deputies, before presenting myself at the tribunal, and thus have overwhelmed the vile wretches who are persecuting me to-day with such odious rancor.

If, therefore, I appear before my judges, it is only to rise triumphant and confound imposture; it is to unseal the eyes of that part of the nation which is already led astray on my account; it is to go out a conqueror from this imbroglio, to reassure public opinion, to do a good service to the fatherland, and to strengthen the cause of liberty.

Full of confidence in the enlightenment, the equity, and the civic spirit of this tribunal, I myself urge the most rigorous examination of this affair. Strong in the testimony of my own conscience, in the rectitude of my intentions, in the purity of my civic spirit, I want no indulgence, but I demand strict justice.

I am ready to answer my judges. Nevertheless, before being examined I ought to place before you, citizens, a series of observations, which will put you in a position to judge of the crass ignorance, the absurdity, the iniquity, the perfidy, the implacableness, and the atrocity of my vile accusers.

The decree of accusation brought against me was carried without discussion, in violation of law and in contradiction of all the principles of order, liberty, and justice. For it is a principle of right that no citizen shall be censured without having first been heard. This decree of accusation was brought against me by two hundred and ten members of the faction of statesmen, contrary to the demand of ninety-two members of “the Mountain.” That is to say, by two hundred and ten enemies of the country against ninety-two defenders of liberty. It was issued amid the most scandalous uproar, during which the patriots covered the royalists with opprobrium, reproaching them with their lack of civic spirit, their baseness, their machinations. It was issued in spite of the most marked manifestation of public opinion, amid the noise of continuous hootings throughout the tribunes. It was issued in a manner so revolting that twenty members who had been deceived by this faction of statemen refused to vote for it, the decree not having been discussed, and while one of them, yielding to the movement of an honest friend, cried out: “I do not vote, and I greatly fear, after all I have seen, that I have been the dupe of a perfidious cabal.”

This decree, far from being the desire of the majority of the convention, as it is the work of a part of the members not making one-third of the assembly, can be regarded only as resulting from the implacable spirit of this faction of the statesmen. You will see that it is the outcome of a criminal plot, for it started after the reading of a certain address to the Jacobins which I had signed as president of the society. This patriotic address, however, was no longer to be attributed to me as a crime, when nearly all my colleagues of “the Mountain” hastened to the desk to sign it. The address was truly republican, and has just been signed by all sections of Paris, and will very soon be signed by all good citizens of France.

Leaving the denunciation of this address which suggested the call for the decree of accusation, the decree naturally came to naught; but it was revived with fury by our enemies when they saw me mount the tribune to renew the proposition to hale Louis Philippe D’Orleans before the Revolutionary Tribunal, and to put a price on the heads of the rebellious and fugitive Capets; a proposition which brought despair to the statesmen, forcing them to place a cord about their own necks if they adopted it, or to confess themselves the partisans of D’Orleans and the Capet rebels, the supporters of royalism, and the accomplices of Dumouriez, if they rejected it. You know with what violence they opposed it. Such a decree, therefore, is only an act of tyranny. It calls for resistance against oppres­sion; and it cannot fail to prove revolting to all good citizens when once it shall be as well known in the departments as it is in Paris.

I pass to the act of accusation. Originating with a committee of legislation almost entirely composed of my most mortal enemies, all members of the faction, it was drawn with such want of reflection that it bears on its face all the characteristics of dense ignorance, falsehood, madness, fury, and atrocity. That act, at a glance, may be seen to be filled with glaring inconsistency, or we should rather say with the spirit of contradiction to the “Decree of Accusation” of which it served as the basis; for it makes no mention of the address drawn up by the Jacobins, the signing of which they attributed to me as a crime; yet this address was what caused the Decree.

When I show how ridiculous and destitute of foundation this act is I feel ashamed of the committee. As the address of the Jacobins contains the sentiments of true republicans, and as it has been signed by nearly all of my colleagues of “the Mountain,” the committee, forced to abandon the fundamental count in the accusation, was reduced to the expedient of citing some of my writings which had lain neglected for many months in the dust of their cases, and it stupidly reproduced the denunciation of some others of my writings, a subject which the assembly refused to pursue, passing to the order of the day, as I shall prove in the sequel.

Let us prove now that that act is illegal. It rests wholly, as you have seen, on some of my political opinions. These opinions had almost all been enunciated from the tribune of the convention before being pub­lished in my writings. For my writings, whose constant aim is to reveal plots, to unmask traitors, to propose useful measures, are a supplement to what I cannot always explain in the midst of the assembly. Now, article number seven of the fifth section of the “Constitutional Act” states in express terms:—

“The representatives of the nation are inviolable: they cannot be sought, accused, nor judged at any time for what they have said, written, or done in the exercise of their functions as representatives.”

The “Act of Accusation” is, therefore, null and void, in that it is diametrically opposed to the fundamental law, which has not been and which cannot be repealed. It is null and void in that it attacks the most sacred right that belongs to a representative of the people.

I am quite aware that this right does not include that of plotting against the state, of attempting any enterprise against the interests of liberty, of attacking the rights of citizens, or of compromising public safety, but it certainly allows a citizen to say, write, or do anything which accords with the sincere purpose of serving the country, of procuring the general welfare, and causing the triumph of liberty. It is so essentially inherent in the functions of the nation’s representatives that without it it would be impossible for the faithful to defend the fatherland and themselves against the traitors who would oppress and enslave them.

The patriots of the Constituent Assembly so thoroughly felt the necessity of making the representatives inviolable and unassailable, capable of struggling with impunity against the despot and completing the revolution, that they hastened to consecrate this right by the famous decree of June 23, 1789, before they had even constituted themselves the National Assembly.

They felt so thoroughly that this right was inherent in every public function, that they stretched it to cover every judicial body, every administrative body, and even all citizens united in a primary assembly.

Without this inalienable right could liberty maintain itself a moment against the machinations of its conspiring enemies? Without it, how, in the midst of a corrupt senate, could a small number of deputies, invincibly attached to the fatherland, unmask the traitors who seek to oppress it or put it in fetters?

Without that essential right, how could a small number of far-seeing and determined patriots foil the plots of a numerous faction of schemers? One may judge of this by what happens to us. If the faction of statesmen can under false pretext attack me, expel me from its convention, hale me before a tribunal, hold me in captivity, cause me to perish; to-morrow under other pretexts it will attack Robespierre, Danton, Callot-d’Herbois, Panis, Lindet, Camille, David, Audoin, Laiguelit, Meaulle, Dupuis, Javougues, Granet, and all the other courageous deputies of the conven­tion. It will restrain the others by terror. It will usurp the sovereignty. It will call to its side Dumouriez, Cobourg, Clerfayt, its accomplices. Supported by Prussians, Austrians, and “Emigrants,” it will reestablish despotism in the hands of a Capet who will cut the throats of all the known patriots, and it will endow the first employments with the treasures of the state. The decree of accusation issued against me for my political opinions is therefore an attack on national representation, and I do not doubt that the convention, with its quota filled by the return of patriotic commissaries, will soon feel its dangerous consequences, its ill-boding results, and will blush that it should have been decreed in its name, and will hasten to repeal it as destructive of all public liberty.

The act of accusation is not only absurd in that it violates all constitutional liberty and attacks national representations, it is still more so in that the committee, contrary to all principle, turns the convention into a criminal tribunal, for it makes it pronounce without shame an iniquitous judgment, in deciding, without preliminary examination of a single document, without even having placed in question if such writings are mine, that I am found to have provoked murder and pillage, to have called up a power that threatens the sovereignty of the people, dishonored the convention, incited its dissolution, etc.

But what will appear incredible is that the committee calls down, without ceremony, without shame, and without remorse, capital punish­ment on my head, and cites articles of the penal code, which, according to it, condemned me to death. I doubt not that such is the object they have in view. How many statesmen have been tormented with despair of keeping me in prison, smothering my voice, and restraining my pen? Did not one of them, the atrocious Lacaze, have the impudence to ask the convention, as Dumouriez and Cobourg asked of the faction, that I should be outlawed? So that the act of accusation is a veritable “verdict rendered,” which has only now to be executed.

Finally, this act is a tissue of lies and fabrications. It accuses me of having incited to murder and pillage, of setting up a “Chief of State,” dishonoring and dissolving a convention, etc. The contrary was proved by the simple reading of my writings. I demand a consecutive reading of the denounced members; for it is not by garbling and mutilating passages that the ideas of an author are to be learnt, it is by reading the context that their meaning may be judged of.

If after the reading any doubts remain, I am here to remove them.

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